One of the best things about hockey and its unmatched postseason grind is how bottom-six players often become heroes on Stanley Cup winning teams. Names you had rarely heard before become household names by the end of the postseason tournament.
Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary are relatively well-known after a couple of Cup runs with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Chicago had Bryan Bickell and before him, Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland create memorable scoring plays in their respective Cup runs. It seems to happen almost every year.
Why? Because the grind of the NHL season and the subsequent postseason are so physically grueling that it is highly unlikely that your top-six makes it to the Stanley Cup or Conference Finals completely intact.
The Dallas Stars experienced this themselves in 2015-16 as Tyler Seguin was missing for all but one game of that run to the 7th game of the 2nd round. Radek Faksa is a guy who immediately comes to mind in scoring some big goals during those playoffs and was a noticeable player throughout that run.
This season, it’s been something that has been brought up quite a bit. Goals have been tough to come by for the depth of the Stars’ lineup. Before this year is said and done, the Stars will need some secondary scoring in order to boost this team into the playoffs.
Let’s take a deep dive into the depths of the Stars’ lineup and see if it has been as bad as it feels.
All statistics via corsica.hockey and were pulled on 11/14/2017, prior to the game against Florida.
2017-18 - Expected and Actual Depth Production
I’ll start with an explanation of how I decided on who the “bottom-six” is. Instead of looking at a lineup card and picking the most recent bottom six, I went with the forwards who have amassed the 7th through 12th most 5v5 ice-time this season. That should give us a better indicator of who the coaching staff really believes is in the “bottom-six”.
This season, that bottom-six consists of Antoine Roussel, Brett Ritchie, Martin Hanzal, Radek Faksa, Remi Elie and Tyler Pitlick.
For starters, let take a look at the expected production of that group in relation to the rest of the NHL’s bottom-sixes.
If I’m being honest, this isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.
The Stars’ bottom-six group should be “expecting” roughly .63 goals per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time. If you are unfamiliar with expected goals, here is a write-up on it.
That .63 number puts the Stars right in the middle of the pack in the league. Let’s look at the actual goals that have been scored by that group.
At .54 goals per 60 minutes of 5v5 play, the Stars’ group of bottom-six forwards once again find themselves in the middle of the NHL but they still are scoring less than what would be expected based off their shot totals and shot quality. Not all expected goals are the same, however. Shooting talent has to be considered when trying to figure out if a group should anticipate a goal increase.
That group of six I mentioned above have a collective career shooting percentage of just over 9.25. Their collective shooting percentage so far this season? 7.92. Perhaps a slight uptick in scoring could be expected moving forward but it certainly wouldn’t shock me to see it stick around where it is right now.
Small sample sizes and all of that, but this isn’t nearly as horrific as I thought it would be in comparison to the rest of the league.
Is It Enough?
I briefly mentioned earlier how some of these players currently entrenched in the bottom-sixes throughout the league end up being difference-makers come playoff time. Often, it is the teams with the most productive bottom-sixes that find themselves in the postseason to begin with.
The next graphic is showing the previous three season’s worth of NHL teams’ bottom-six units and their goal production per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time.
In the previous two seasons, 9 of the 16 playoff teams were in the top-16 in 5v5 goals/60 minutes from their bottom-six forward group. The year before that (2014-15), 10 of the 16 postseason participants were in the top-16 of that category.
In both 2014-15 and 2015-16, two teams managed to make the postseason despite being in the bottom-5 of the league in bottom-six scoring. The Canadiens and Red Wings made it in 2014-15 while the Predators and Flyers made it in 2015-16. Last season, just one team in the bottom-5 of that category made it to the postseason (Ducks).
The Stars are currently in the middle of the pack in the league and their goal production is roughly at league-average for bottom-six groups over the past three seasons prior to the current one.
With the top-end talent they possess, that might just be enough. They will likely need some favors from the goaltending to get it done, but this group of bottom-six forwards hasn’t been nearly as rough as it may have seemed so far this season.